A novel Sonia Meyer
“Dosha, flight of the Russian Gypsies”
Published: November 1, 2010
Wilderness House Press
Price: $24.94 (hardcover) 6 x 9
First Edition: 386 pages
“Dosha, flight of the Russian Gypsies” begins and ends with Nikita s state visit to Helsinki on June 6, 1957. It begins with security and propaganda preparations for the State Visit and the uneasy wait for his arrival. The end unfolds during the arrival of the Soviet delegation and the motorcade that takes them from the train station to the Soviet Embassy. Within this frame the novel tells the story of the Gypsy girl Dosha; from her childhood spent with Russian partisans in Polish forests to her defection during Khrushchev’s visit.
After the wait for Khrushchev in Helsinki in the first chapter we are then led into the story fully and it begins with 1941 when Russian nomadic Gypsies answer Stalin’s call to sabotage areas already occupied by the advancing German army. They move into Poland where they join Russian partisans and fight for the country that for centuries has shown the Gypsy people love and acceptance.
After the war they return to Russia to resume their traditional nomadic life, only to find increased hostility toward traveling Gypsy people. Finally in l956, during the short-lived Cultural Thaw, while releasing millions of innocent victims of purges still languishing in gulags of Siberia and Russia’s High North, Khrushchev secretly clamps down on the freedom of the last Gypsy tribes still roaming free. So, as a reward for having helped the Soviet forces as partisans during the war they were forced to settle down, and that often in the very same gulags from which dissidents had been released.
The book also introduces the readers to the legend and ancient taboos, including the cult of the horse and others, as well as to some parts of the language.
There will, no doubt, be a fair number of those who will condemn this book and its author, as it seems to happen so often with such novels with a Gypsy theme regardless of how positive the authors may present the People.
Others will, in addition or especially, condemn the author for having revealed, as they would have it, secrets of the Rom too the Gadje, such as the notion of the “Cult of the Horse” and other practices of the People, as well as parts of the Romani Language. And that despite the fact that in the latter case some words have, in fact, come out wrong in the book, such as the word for horse, for instance.
I will say, however, that as an ethnic Romani-Gypsy myself, I have found the book extremely good and the history of the Russian Lovara, and that of the Ruska Rom and Ruska Roma per se, and their persecution by the Soviet state after the Great Patriotic War has been presented finally to the world.
The Soviet persecution of the Rom in the USSR is not well known in the West at all where people believe the Rom to have been treated very well by the state due to, more often than not, simply how the Theater Romen was promoted and presented. The picture of the Romani People having had a good life in the USSR having had a fairly good life is nothing but fiction conjured up by the Soviet propaganda machine and “Dosha, flight of the Russian Gypsies” presents this rather well to the world.
This book is very important and timely right now in the light of the way that the Rom are still be persecuted to this very day – in fact as you are reading this – in many countries of the European Union even, with Italy, France, Germany and Denmark, it would appear, in the very forefront. The persecution of the Romani People has, in fact, never ever stopped.
The author makes makes probably one of the most important points and observations in this book when she has Dosha, the heroine, realize that the fatal danger to all Rom lies not only in the external enemy that they share but in the deep-rooted divisions among themselves. It is this very division that makes too many of the People oblivious to the fate of other Rom and thus they even endanger themselves.
There is one final point that I think that must be mentioned though the fault does not lie with the author but with those that may have advised her and that is the term “Poriamos” for the Romani Holocaust. This very word is an invention of Prof. Ian Hancock and the International Roma(ni) Union and would not have existed and been used that shortly after the war. It also is created in a Romanian Romani dialect, with the ending of “-mos” being the dead giveaway. The older term of Samudaripen, as used by Sinti groups, may already have been in existence and use at that time but even of that we cannot be sure.
The author of “Dosha, flight of the Russian Gypsies”, Sonia Meyer fled the Nazis with her parents when she was 2 years old to live in the woods of Germany and Poland with partisans and Gypsies. There her father taught her to throw hand grenades using a wooden darning egg.
They lived in the woods, in abandoned houses, in isolated excursion inns, in fields and barns, always dodging the German and later Soviet armies who hunted them relentlessly.
Shortly after the war Sonia and her family returned to Cologne, Germany where she foraged for food with a band of Gypsies camped nearby. She now lives in Wellington, FL, USA.
In conclusion I would just like to say, aside from the fact that I have immensely enjoyed the book, that I am also very happy to recommend it.